Posts Tagged ‘wax trax’

Controlled Bleeding is perhaps the strangest band ever to be categorized under the industrial umbrella, if only because their style has varied to such extremes that it could almost be considered 3 or 4 different bands and only a small fraction of their music could even really be considered industrial.  They have a long history going all the way back to the 1970s, and at various times they have been an ethereal medieval-influenced band, a harsh noise experiment, an industrial-dance outfit, a laid-back dub group, a hard-rocking guitar project, and various shades in between.

Because of these wild swings into new genres, I can honestly say that I only enjoy a small fraction of the band’s output: their brief foray into more mainstream industrial-dance which is mostly encompassed by the albums Trudge and Penetration.  I can also appreciate some of their ethereal/goth/medieval sound, when I’m in the right mood, and I really like Joe Papa’s almost operatic vocals.  Ironically, the industrial-dance stuff which I like the best and which I suspect is their most popular period overall is the one that that band seems to disown and consider a less artistic, “sellout” time.  But that relatively brief part of their history is what I’m mainly going to focus on here.

Trudge

Controlled Bleeding -Trudge

For the first year or two that I was discovering industrial music, I would often just go into a music store and blind-buy albums with the Wax Trax logo on the spine.  This was in the days before the world wide web, so it could be very difficult to become informed about industrial bands if you didn’t have friends or a local radio station to help guide your way.  Controlled Bleeding’s Trudge was one of those blind purchases.  I think my first reaction was one of confusion, because this didn’t sound anything like Front 242 or Revolting Cocks or KMFDM or any of the other bands who were on the Wax Trax label around this time.  But I loved the airy pad sounds that opened the album on Words of the Dying, as well as the interesting percussion.  The vocals were not the aggressive distorted sound I was becoming accustomed to and, being someone who didn’t and still doesn’t know much about goth music, I would have described them as more goth than industrial.  The strange-but-cool feeling continued into the second track, Crimes of the Body, which starts out relatively light and cheery but then switches to a brief segment of hard sludge with distorted vocals, before abruptly switching again to a fast guitar-driven momement with the angry, distorted singing I expected from industrial.  But just as quickly, it went back to the relatively cheery sound that started the song.  The three different styles thrown together in this song are indicative of Controlled Bleeding’s entire catalog, to my mind–always changing drastically to something you didn’t expect.

The third track, The Front, continued with the somewhat complex percussion that I enjoy throughout this album, but put the focus more on a repetitive bass guitar riff and angry vocals.  The most memorable thing about this track to me was always the vocal sample, “You can go to hell!”  And then the fourth track, Crawl, starts up and it sounds noticeably different than anything else on the album.  At this point I was really starting to scratch my head because I just couldn’t nail down exactly what this band was all about.  This variety, at least within their industrial-dance era, is something that I really appreciate these days because it seems most industrial bands seem to have one specific sound which they repeat in every song, but at the time as an industrial neophyte it was a little maddening.  Crawl has an energetic synth riff driving the song and some great percussion highlighted by a sharp metal clank as the snare sound.

Next up was The Fodder Song, which was yet another curveball.  The main element this time is a driving 16th-note bassline which seemed more like stuff I’d heard from other bands, and the vocals somewhat reminded me of Ministry’s album Twitch.  I originally wasn’t too interested in this song because it seemed plodding and overly repetitive, but I like it more now.  This was followed up by Kiss (the Hand of Genocide), which fascinated me and was one of my favorite tracks early on.  The incredibly fast bassline and frenetic drums mixed with the low, ominous monotone of the vocals just worked perfectly for me.

Healing Time was another song which sounded nothing like anything I’d yet encountered on the album, but which quickly became a favorite.  Starting off with an extended, plodding timpani beat that set an ominous mood, it was joined by screeching noise samples and then a main riff of dramatic brass sounds accompanied by low-pitched, heavily distorted vocals.  The effect was very dark and atmospheric, and I ate it up.  I especially liked the chorus which made use of a male chorus, low octave at first, but then giving the song more of a soaring sound when moving it to a higher register.  This song remains a highlight for me, more than two decades after I first purchased the album.

Assembly is an instrumental which is almost a percussion-only track, but it does have a simple melody of distorted, held notes to give it more body.  As I’ve mentioned, the percussion throughout this album is interesting and unique and clearly had a lot more thought put into it than most industrial bands bother with.  Unfortunately, I think the production on the album overall is a bit lackluster and I long for a remastering where the drum sounds could be beefed up substantially.

Christ Said is the only track from the album which I didn’t transfer over to my iPhone library.  I don’t dislike it, but for me it just sorta plods along and I rarely find myself listening through to the end.  But this is followed up by Save Us, which is possibly my favorite track on the album.  It starts out as a wonderful percussion-only intro that gets more and more complex as time goes on.  When the strings and vocals finally come in, the song proves to be another dark, slow track similar to Healing Time.  This is more of what I’d describe as a goth song with industrial tendencies, but again, I’ve never been very educated on goth so I could be entirely wrong there.

The final track, A Silken Barb, is one that I didn’t hear until many years later because it appears only on the CD and my original purchase of Trudge was the cassette version.  This track is a bit more like some of the medieval-tinged atmospheric stuff that Controlled Bleeding did on some earlier releases, so the change from the rest of the album is a bit jolting.  This track really highlight’s Joe Papa’s vocals, which are nothing like I’d usually want to hear in industrial music but for some reason work really well for me.

Overall, Trudge is a really interesting album with the main downside being in production.  The drums don’t sound as powerful as they should and some of the riffs are perhaps a bit muddy.  The overall effect is that the album sounds more dated than it should, but after a brief acclimation period it really doesn’t bother me anymore.

Penetration

Controlled Bleeding - Penetration

Penetration is for me the clear high point for the band and a real industrial classic.  It varies a lot in style, just like the previous album, but the production is better and the songwriting tighter.  It starts out with Blessed is the Burning Room, a track which had me scratching my head due to its funky vibe and horns.  For a time I didn’t really appreciate this song as much as others, but now I think it’s a solid track.

The second track, Now is the Time, is incredible.  I love the incredibly simple but catchy bass riff and the way the percussion dances around it.  The upbeat tone of the song contrasts sharply but perfectly with the distorted screaming of the vocals.  This is followed by the machine-gun percussion intro of Auto-Grind, and the frenetic, unnatural pace of the drums persists throughout the track.  The dance-friendly beat again is seemingly at odds with the heavy guitars in the chorus and again the screaming vocals, but it all ends up working very well together.  I’ve always been a bit unclear about the roles of the three members of the band, but I think the great screaming vocals are the work of the late Chris Moriarty.

The fourth song, Consecration’s Will, is one that mistakenly wrote off as filler at one point, but now I think it’s a solid track but just not one of the highlights for me.  Dead Man Reality, however, is a great danceable track with bass and drums again working together well with stabs of orchestra hits.  This is followed up by In Penetration, a blazing fast guitar-driven track that almost sounds like dark, electronic punk song.  This song originally appeared under one of the band’s brief side projects, Joined at the Head.

Next up is probably my favorite song on the album, Will to Power (And Throwin’ Down).  It slows the pace way down but has a great, dark groove and a thumping beat that will keep your head slowly bobbing.  I love the lightly distorted singing that is mixed with the more dark vocal delivery in the verses, and also the occasional sound of twin laser blasts to highlight the percussion.  Halfway through, the song halts abruptly and is replaced by by a noisy buzz and then the beat comes back in even harder and more distorted than before–my favorite bit of the song.

This is followed up by Praying in Fire, which my mind has always lumped with Consecration’s Will as good but not quite a standout.  But really both songs are very solid, I’ve underrated them.  I can’t say the same of the next track, Scrap Metal (Part 3 – Live), though.  I think this track is a bunch of pointless noise with no appeal whatsoever.  I can get into ambience and I like noise in some songs, but this is just a pure wall of noise with nothing to latch onto.  I hate the entire series of Scrap Metal songs which they’ve spread throughout many of their releases.  There are even full albums of this style earlier in their career.

The last song, Awakened Beneath the Ground, is unlike anything else on the disc.  It retains the dancy beat, but the organ sounds and the return of Joe Papa’s opera-like vocals make it unique.  It’s one of the highlights of the album for me, though, I love the atmosphere of it all.

Other Stuff

Unfortunately, outside of those two albums I have trouble finding much in the Controlled Bleeding catalog which I enjoy.  I have their 2-disc Greatest Hits collection, from which I only discovered a few great tracks such as Tormentor’s Song which is more in the vein of Awakened Beneath the Ground, being more of a gothic/medieval sound complete with a mandolin-like sound during part of the verses.  Also, from the album Buried Blessings which I believe is actually a collection of several singles from 1988-1990, I discovered a few greats:  Raid, which sounds like a more rough version of something on Penetration; Buried Blessing, which would fit in well with songs from Trudge; and Ring of Fire, which is another of the more atmospheric/operatic songs although with an interesting percussion section.

Because I like the aforementioned albums and single tracks so much, I find it really frustrating that the band has such a huge catalog and yet I don’t enjoy more of it.  There are a few albums of the ethereal/medieval/gothic sound which have some interesting clips, such as the album Songs from the Ashes, but as of yet I haven’t purchased any of that from iTunes.  But their noise experiments and their dub phase and their most recent efforts which I find hard to describe, all hold little interest for me.  So the band is strange for me because I hold them in very high regard, but only for one small phase of their decades-long existence.

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KMFDM were among the first industrial bands I ever heard, when a friend loaned me the single for More & Faster.  It contained 3 tracks, all of which are classics–besides the title track, it also included Rip The System and Naff Off.  Okay, so maybe Naff Off is just a personal favorite, but I think the other two are widely considered classics.

I have a few gaps in my KMFDM collection, so there will be some albums not appearing on this list.  This includes their very first album, What Do You Know Deutschland?.  In the past I’ve listened to clips and never found any compelling reason to pick this one up.  However, in reviewing clips just now I discovered that Naff Off and Itchy Bitchy are basically two versions of the same song.  Except for that album, my collection is fairly complete up until the last 5 releases, which I never purchased.  I basically lost interest in acquiring more of KMFDM’s sound because I felt like they were just doing the same thing over and over and there was little new to experience anymore.  So since I’m not familiar with their latest releases at all other than brief clips, this list doesn’t include them.

Don’t Blow Your Top

KMFDM - Dont Blow Your Top

KMFDM’s 2nd album is the first one I’ll cover.  After being blown away by the More & Faster single, I asked my friend for more from the band and he gave me this album.  It was decidedly different and somewhat of a surprise.  It’s a very strange and quirky album which I couldn’t really get into then, and I still can’t really get into now.  I find that generally I’m not a fan of much that Raymond Watts contributes to, with the notable exception of Nihil we’ll get to in a bit, and his sound is all over this album.  I’ll try to pick three favorites:

  • Don’t Blow Your Top — This song is a blueprint for the signature sound which KMFDM would adopt and retain throughout much of the band’s career.  It doesn’t really sound like anything else on this album, but it does sound a lot like many of their songs on subsequent releases.
  • Disgust — This song has a cool bassline and good percussion.
  • Oh Look — I begrudgingly list this as a third favorite just to complete the list, not because I like it but because I don’t dislike it as much as the rest of the offerings.

Honorable Mention: None

Worst Song: So many to choose from!  I honestly can’t narrow it down.

UAIOE

KMFDM - UAIOE

This album also has it s quirky moments, such as the strong inexplicable reggae influence on several tracks, but I found it much more palatable than the previous release and there are songs on this one I genuinely like.  My top three:

  • More and Faster 243 — It’s not the same version that I originally heard on the single, but it’s close enough that this supplants it in my memory.  A real classic and one of the songs which cemented my fanaticism for industrial music for decades to come.  It also may be the first example of their self-deprecating humor which they would revisit years later on songs such as Sucks.
  • En Esch — A solid rocker that is a precursor to the more guitar-heavy sound which would become their bread and butter.
  • Thumb Thumb — This song was a late discovery for me, somehow I didn’t take notice of it until after I’d listened to the album many times.  But this is a great song with a driving beat and a lot of energy.  I wish the production on it was a bit cleaner, though.

Honorable Mention: Uaioe, Loving Can Be an Art, Thrash Up!

Worst Song: I’m going to say Rip The System, only because the reggae remix offered on this album pales before the greatness of the original single version.  This song is one of their all-time greats, but you wouldn’t really know it from listening to the version they included on UAIOE.

Naïve

KMFDM - Naive

Many fans hail this as one of the band’s greatest albums.  I’m afraid I can’t quite agree.  I originally bought it on cassette and I remember listening to it heavily back in the days when industrial was still very fresh and new for me, but eventually it faded from memory as I switched to listening to things on CD and all my cassettes started receiving less attention.  Many years later I was surprised to hear lots of praise for it and thought I’d revisit it and perhaps pick up the CD release, but when I went back I found that I didn’t actually like very many of the tracks.  This album does show KFMDM solidifying into their signature sound, though, so I can see why people would like it more than anything released previously.  Apparently this album was out of print for a long time due to legal issues with a sample used in the song Liebesleid, but was later reissued with an edited version of that song.  Wikipedia says the original release is now considered a collector’s item. I  wonder if my old cassette is worth some cash?  My three favorite songs from this one:

  • Go To Hell — This was a standout track to me from the very beginning, and it remains just about the only song from this album that I would want in my current rotation.  Stomping beat, angry guitar, and bombastic lyrics — everything that would make them arguably one of the more successful bands to come out of the industrial scene.
  • Liebesleid — Some great percussion on this one, everything else is secondary.
  • Virus — A fun song, I think a bit too noisy in the original version but the Dub remix on the full album cleans it up a bit.  I think this is hailed as one of their best songs from the early years, but it didn’t have such a big impact on me.

Honorable Mention: Godlike

Worst Song: It’s a tough call, but I’ll go with Friede just because that wah-wah guitar really annoys me.

Money

KMFDM - Money

I picked up the single for Vogue which was preceded this full album, and I remember being blown away by it — it seemed like a real step up for the band, particularly in terms of production.  I really liked Money when it first came out, I’m pretty sure I considered it my favorite KMFDM album for a time.  Alas, these days I find it a fairly boring album with a lot of plodding songs.  This album also seems to have some early examples of KMFDM stealing from themselves, something that seemed to become more common as time went on.  I’m positive that the main riff in Bargeld has been used elsewhere, perhaps in Sasha’s side project Excessive Force?  Also, the song I Will Pray uses the same Slayer guitar sample that they used in Godlike on the previous album.  My favorite three from this album are:

  • Money — A classic KMFDM song, catchy lyrics and some good song structure.
  • Vogue — Perhaps stronger than Money, it’s the other of the album’s main two highlights.  I have the nagging feeling that the single version was better, but I just did a little digging and it sounds more or less the same as this album version.
  • Under Satan (Dub) — Choosing a third favorite was more difficult because frankly nothing besides the aforementioned two tracks really grabs my attention.  I chose this because it’s almost a KMFDM great, but not quite.  It has some quirky samples including a little kid’s voice also heard two tracks previously on I Will Pray, and it’s missing vocals which for me are almost a necessary component to really catapult a song to greatness.

Honorable Mention: Sex on the Flag, We Must Awaken

Worst Song: I Will Pray

Angst

KMFDM - Angst

You could say that this album marked the beginning of a new stage in KMFDM’s career.  The template laid down here largely defined what they’d do on each subsequent release.  I remember being really excited about this album when it first came out.  Eventually there were just a few tracks from this album which I continued to keep in rotation, but in reviewing the whole album for this blog I’m a bit surprised by how strong it remains — there’s really just one stinker on the whole tracklist, and I should probably add some more of these songs back into the catalog of things I currently listen to.  My three favorites:

  • Hole in the Wall — For me, this is one of the greatest KMFDM songs of all time.  It is so dark and so serious, it almost seems like it was written by a different band.  But at the same time, it still has that signature KMFDM sound.
  • Glory — Just a driving energetic song, I remember the kick drum sound being amazingly heavy when I first heard this track.
  • Light — My first instinct was not to choose this song, but it has a lot of interesting things going on including a guitar riff that is hard to get out of my head once I’ve heard it.

Honorable Mention: I know many readers are probably shocked that I don’t have A Drug Against War and Sucks on my favorites list.  Those are both fun tracks, and actually, perhaps I should reconsider the former.  But the latter is good mainly because of the humorous lyrics, not the music.  Every song on this album has something interesting about it, though, except for…

Worst Song: The Problem — I don’t get this song, it doesn’t fit in with the album and all and it sounds like they were just doing a favor to their female vocalist by letting her have a track to herself.  This song gets skipped every time I play this album.

Nihil

KMFDM - Nihil

For me, this is KMFDM’s masterpiece.  I said earlier that I’m not a fan of the sound Raymond Watts brings to most things, but this album is the exception — the strongest tracks on this album seem to benefit from his involvement.  I saw the band play live during this tour, and sometimes seeing a band performing songs live will make me appreciate those songs more, but in this case I’d already recognized the greatness of this disc before seeing them.  A little while after this album was released, there was a big party thrown by my employer and they’d hired a DJ.  One of the first songs he played was Juke Joint Jezebel, and that’s when I knew KMFDM had really hit the big time.  Probably most of the people at that party didn’t know the song or the band, but I knew, and it was remarkable to me that they’d reached such a level of exposure.

The songs on this album seem to be ordered in a particular fashion:  The odd-numbered tracks seem to feature heavy involvement from Watts and are somewhat different from what the band’s usual sound, whereas the even-numbered tracks are more traditional KMFDM music.  I like virtually every song on this disc, but I do tend to favor the odd-numbered ones.  There are so many great songs on this album that it will be hard to choose a best three, but here we go:

  • Disobedience — This is, hands down, the best song KMFDM has ever released.  I just love everything about it.  It’s perfectly structured, with several great parts, and I love the way the guitar and horns play together.  Perhaps it’s more of a rock song than an industrial song, but that doesn’t make it any less great.
  • Terror — This song is all about the chorus, and it’s a great one that’s really fun to sing along with.
  • Brute — I love the dark, pounding sound of this track and the chorus has some powerfully dark lyrics that, again, you want to sing along with.  “Brutalize me / I will heal!”

Honorable Mention: Juke Joint Jezebel is probably the most recognized song from this album, and I do think the chorus is amazing, but I think the verses are boring.  I’d guess the band, or at least a label executive, thought the same thing because I’m pretty sure I’ve heard remixes that basically get rid of the verses so that listeners can have easier access to the catchy chorus.  But really, every song on this album is strong and deserves a mention.

Worst Song: Nihil — I can really appreciate some ambient dissonance when I’m in the right frame of mind, but KMFDM is not the band to deliver that style.

Xtort

KMFDM - Xtort

Even though I loved Nihil, I didn’t pick up the followup album Xtort until many years after it had been released.  I recall hearing very negative things about it and I didn’t like the clips that I’d heard, so I gave this one a wide berth.  Years later when I revisited clips, I was surprised by how much I liked them and so I finally purchased the full album.  This feels like a very back-to-basics KMFDM, which is a good thing, and I consider this one of their best releases.  If the reviews on iTunes are any indication, the negativity I remember upon release appears to have turned around and now the album seems highly regarded. My favorite three songs are:

  • Apathy — This is another fast-tempo song like A Drug Against War from two albums ago, but I think I find Apathy more interesting.
  • Rules — This is a slow, groovy track, the kind of song which is common on their album Money and which I’m not usually fond of, but this one is catchy.
  • Craze — I like how this is high-energy during the verses, and then slows down for the chorus with the monotone vocal delivery.

Honorable Mention: Power, Inane, Blame, Son of a Gun

Worst Song: Ikons, which isn’t really that bad, but I don’t like the chunky verses with the bad vocals.

Symbols

KMFDM - Symbols

This is a popular album, and it does have some good tracks on it, but for me this sorta marks the beginning of the end for me as a KMFDM fan.  I was momentarily excited about it, but these days I only find a few tracks worth listening to.  I’m not a fan of Tim Skold’s vocals, I think Ogre’s guest vocals don’t fit at all with the KMFDM sound, and Raymond Watts is back to doing things I don’t like such as the song with the vile title Spit Sperm.  Plus, the bombastic lyrics that KMFDM has always featured somehow started to sound a bit forced or disingenuous, perhaps a bit immature, starting with this album.  My three favorites would be:

  • Megalomaniacal — Very slick song, a KMFDM classic.  I remember it being the highlight of seeing the film Mortal Kombat in the theater.
  • Leid und Elend — Musically, this is probably my favorite song on the disc.  The vocals weaken it a little, though.
  • Mercy — Nothing remarkable about the verses, but the chorus is amazing!  This album needed more moments like that.

Honorable Mention: I like Stray Bullet but the lyrics make me roll my eyes too often for it to be considered a favorite.

Worst Song: There are a lot of candidates, but I think I’ll go with Torture just because to me it sounds like the music and vocals were done in complete isolation, without knowledge of each other.  Ogre and KMFDM just don’t mix well in my opinion.

Adios

KMFDM - Adios

I remember the confusion surrounding this album.  Was KMFDM really breaking up?  They actually did after this album, for a while at least, with Sasha forming the asinine-in-concept MFDMK project which wasn’t different enough to warrant being considered a new band at all.  I hate all the drama, hate that En Esch and Gunter Shulz were forced out and I prefer their subsequent project Slick Idiot over anything that Sasha would do without them as KMFDM.  But overall I do find this album to be pretty strong and a big step up from Symbols.  This is their last album for Wax Trax, and I do have to respect them for sticking with the classic label for so long while most of their labelmates had jumped ship at some point previous.  My top three favorites:

  • Sycophant — Catchy little song, and I love the stabs of aggressive percussion that appear hear and there.
  • Witness — I think a lot of the time, the addition of female vocals in KMFDM songs is a bit overrated and detracts rather than adds to the song.  Here, though, where there are only female vocals, it works great.  This is a quirky song with weird lyrics, but it’s fun to listen to.
  • Adios — KMFDM doing their typical bombast, but doing it well here.

Honorable Mention: D.I.Y. and R.U.OK?

Worst Song: A tie between That’s All and Full Worm Garden — as I mentioned before, I think KMFDM and Ogre are two flavors that just don’t work well together.

Attak

KMFDM - Attak

This album was technically the return of the band, after breaking up and reforming briefly with a different lineup as MDFMK.  There are some interesting tracks here, but by this time my interest in the band had really started to decline so this didn’t get as much play as previous albums.  Three favorites:

  • Skurk — The chorus is really catchy and usually has me singing along; a fun song overall.
  • Sturm & Drang — KMFDM at their bombastic best; top track on the album.
  • Risen — A nice, aggressive groove to this one.

Honorable Mention: Dirty and Save Me, the latter mainly for the chorus.  It’s archetypical Tim Skold, which usually I don’t like, but it works well here.

Worst Song: Either Yohoho, because there’s not much going on, or Preach/Pervert because outside of the Nihil album I just don’t find Raymond Watts’ contributions all that appealing.

WWIII

KMFDM -- WWIII

This is it, the last album I purchased from KMFDM before I determined that I was no longer interested in their sound.  This album got even less play than the previous one and I had to review the whole thing just to remember what songs it offered. In doing so, I mainly reminded myself of why no song on this album got ripped into my iPhone library except the title track.  I just don’t like this album at all.  But in keeping with the theme of this post, my favorite three are:

  • WWIII — This is a lot more heavy and metal-sounding than usual for the band, and it could almost be considered a Ministry song if not for the instantly recognizable vocal stylings of Sasha.
  • From Here On Out — This seems to be pretty solid, it could possibly be put back into rotation if I was looking to change things up a bit.
  • Intro — Not particularly interesting musically, but the lyrics are funny how they introduce each member of the band.  However, every time I listen to this I’m reminded of the song Linger Fickin’ Good by Revolting Cocks which does the same thing but in a much more interesting way.

Honorable Mention: Moron doesn’t seem too bad

Worst Song: Since most of the album doesn’t interest me, it’s hard to put in the effort to pick one that is worse than the others.

Newer albums not covered in this list: Hau Ruck, Tohuvabohu, Blitz, WTF?!, and Kunst